By Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Peter Burghart
YOKOSUKA, Japan – As Chief Master-at-Arms Capa walked through the side-boys during his retirement ceremony, you could see him looking forward to the next chapter of his life, lounging on his couch at home, plenty of good food, morning walks and his favorite chew toy.
That’s right, a chew toy.
Chief Capa is not an ordinary Master-at-Arms, he is a Military Working Dog (MWD) who has spent most of his career as part of Fleet Activities (FLEACT) Yokosuka’s K-9 Unit. He served in the Navy for almost nine years, pawing his way up the ranks.
But why does an MWD need a rank?
“There’s no set instruction or guideline that tells us what rank our dog is”, says Master-at-Arms 2nd Class Megan Wooster, from Fort Wayne, Ind. It is traditional among the MWD community for the dog to be awarded a rank above its handler. This applies not only to MWDs like Capa, but even to dogs that serve a more ceremonial function, such as the United States Marine Corps mascot bulldog Chesty. “We do have to discipline our dogs, so this reminds us to still respect them and what they do for us,” says Wooster. Since the handler Capa had prior to Wooster was Master-at Arms 1st class, Capa retires as a chief.
Wooster will now be Capa’s owner, as she was afforded opportunity to adopt Capa as he makes the transition from Sailor to pet. Wooster has been Capa’s handler since 2010. She choose to adopt Capa because she has been working with him longer than any other dog. She was assigned to Capa late in his career, which is something she is grateful for. “Capa was my first patrol dog, and being a senior MWD, we learn as much from them as they learn from us,” says Wooster. “I had a really great opportunity early in my career to be able to work a more experienced dog and learn a lot from him.”
There is no set retirement age for MWDs. The dogs retire when work drive diminishes or like humans they start to have health concerns. Capa is now 10 years old so and is starting to have issues that won’t affect him as a pet, but make it more difficult for him to work, according to Wooster. That meant it was time for Capa change collars and retire, an idea that was supported by FLEACT Yokosuka’s security department.
“I thought it was a great opportunity,” says FLEACT Yokosuka’s Assistant Security Officer, Lt. Christopher Guaydacan. “It’s great to show the base and the other tenant commands what MWD Capa has done for our country.”
The canines with the MWD unit are used to apprehend suspects and to detect explosives and narcotics while searching buildings, ships and submarines on FLEACT Yokosuka.
Navy retirement ceremonies are a long standing time-honored tradition. Animals that have served the Navy may also earn the honor. Pat of the retirement process is determining who will adopt the dog. MWD handlers typically get the first shot at adopting a retiring MWD, starting primarily with the dog’s current handler.
“As his current handler, getting to work with him every day and know him, I have a better and stronger bond with him,” says Wooster. “I’m going to have a really good time giving him a good life as a pet.”
Capa was retired with all the pomp and circumstance that a U.S. Navy chief petty officer earned, including remarks by Commander, Fleet Activities Yokosuka (CFAY), Capt. David Glenister, awards, video slide show and a very big bone as a retirement gift.
As he was piped ashore with Wooster at his side, Capa was wished the traditional, “Fair winds and following seas”, by his shipmates from around the base. He took the time out to take photos, and then attend a barbeque in his honor. Then he departed for his new home, tail wagging into the sunset.
FLEACT Yokosuka provides, maintains, and operates base facilities and services in support of 7th Fleet’s Forward-Deployed Naval Forces, 83 tenant commands, and 24,000 Military and civilian personnel.